Walk through the UC Davis Arboretum some morning and you might run into Allan Jones, photographer, passionately working on a volunteer project that will benefit generations to come. Last spring, Emily Griswold, assistant director of horticulture at the Arboretum, noticed him in the garden nearly every day with his tripod.
Allan was taking photos of insects and whatever caught his eye. He likes to hang out in natural settings and do something constructive. Emily told him about photos she needed for the Arboretum publications and educational programs. Now, his images are regularly featured in the newsletter, on interpretive signs, in staff presentations at conferences and training sessions. And one image was even on the cover of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Allan is a person who has found his niche, a place and project where he can work with passion and create lasting contributions extending his skills, talents, creativity and knowledge. He is a volunteer extraordinaire.
He has taken on a huge project: He is capturing 10 images (leaves, bark, flowers, acorns, twigs, etc.) for each of the ArboretumÕs 160 oak accessions. Naturally, he must follow each tree throughout the seasons to capture those images.
ÒHis perfectionism is evident in the high quality of the images, which will ultimately be available for anyone to access online,Ó Griswold said. ÒIn the process of working on the project, Allan has become quite familiar with our oak collection and now navigates among the 275 trees with ease Ñ a challenge even for our most experienced horticultural staff.
ÒAllan is a wonderful volunteer to work with Ñ he works well independently, is highly self-motivated, and produces exceptional work.Ó
Allan, once a teaching assistant in English, is retired from a job that evolved from tomato inspection to safety training and research. He made slide shows and tested equipment and methods on projects, largely with agricultural engineering professors at UC Davis, so he was practiced in using a camera and macro photography depicting tomato defects. He was also accustomed to presenting something in a step-by-step manner. He had many transferable job skills for his new volunteer project.
I accompanied Allan around the Arboretum and was especially intrigued by the creative equipment he improvised from humble materials. He constructed his own portable theater to shoot each oak image such as flower, twig, acorn or bark.
The portable theater or photo box is a simple but serviceable cardboard box held together with tape. The backdrop inside is black. The floor is white to reflect more light. And the box theater allows him to have the same background for each image and keep out the wind.
Visit the Arboretum oak grove and you will be surprised at all of the new art. Allan created a stunning plaque by blue oak tree 215. It is part of the UCD Art/Science Fusion Program, founded and directed by entomologist-artist Diane Ullman and artist Donna Billick.
The plaques were created in a seminar. They are made of handcrafted ceramic sculptures embedded in a mosaic of broken tile. The tile is grouted into a cement pedestal. Most plaques contain a bird, animal and insect and also items related to that particular oak.
As his talents become known, Allan gets drawn into other projects. He is helping Ellen Zagory document the bees in the demonstration garden in front of the teaching nursery. They are documenting the wild bees that are so important now that European-style Òbee in a boxÓ agriculture is running into problems.
There are innumerable opportunities for important volunteer work in a natural setting in our community. Here are some places where you might find or develop your niche.
n The Arboretum has more than 150 volunteers who help in every area of operations, from growing plants for sales to maintaining museum records. Help with plant sales is needed on Sept. 25 and Oct. 16. Call (530) 752-4880.
n The Yolo Basin Wildlife Area operated by the state Department of Fish and Game has more than 100 volunteers. At an appreciation dinner last June, the Yolo Basin Foundation handed out awards in 10 categories: school program, office, outdoors (planning, pruning, etc.), bats, Bucks for Ducks, California Duck Days, board of directors, Vernal Pool Open House, Wildlife Area tours and city of Davis wetlands tours. The queen of volunteers there is Mary Schiedt, who volunteers in all categories.
Volunteer training will be at 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 4. Call (530) 757-4828.
n The Putah Creek Council welcomes volunteers. More than 200 species of birds frequent the creek, and 65 percent of all mammal species known to occur in Yolo County and 80 percent of reptiles known to occur in our valley live in or along Putah Creek. Volunteer at the greenhouse to care for restoration plants on Aug. 24, Sept. 28 or Oct. 26. Register online or call (530) 795-3006. Last year, 104 volunteers removed 7.5 tons of trash from the creek.
Other organizations to get you up close to Mother Nature include http://TuleyomeYoloHikers.org and http://YoloAudubon.org. Or, you could form your own group.
Gene Trap and Jo Ellen Ryan organized Friends of the West Pond. They have worked with the city and numerous neighbors to plant a beautiful butterfly/hummingbird garden, add a new bench and address various pond issues.
Numerous neighborhood groups have been created to work at a local area. In my area of North Davis, residents joined to react to a proposed change in our greenbelt. We then came together on a weekend to work with the city and beautify the greenbelt between Cabrillo and Balboa avenues. We spread mulch delivered by the city, cleaned up trash and weeded.
I often think of fall as being the real new year since my family is so tied to the academic year through jobs and school. In this new year, may we each find ways to do our part to restore and protect our natural world. Find your niche, use that passion and keep on growing.
Ñ Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her column is published on the fourth Sunday of each month. Contact her at JeanJackman@gmail.com